Right now, is not a good time to have an anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, right now is also one of the rare times that being afraid is justified. It’s almost impossible to escape news about new infections, deaths or the continued spread of COVID-19. On the other hand, as always, being afraid is not really helpful.
Anxiety mind games
My anxiety works like this: I read about a disease – any disease really – and within the next five minutes I’ve thought myself into a panic attack. I fear that I might have symptoms or develop them soon and that I will get sick and maybe even die. It works the same with any possible worst-case scenario: Losing my job if I have one, losing my partner if I am in a relationship and so on. The worst part about those scenarios is that a lot of times, they eventually become true in one way or another. I am very aware that this is not healthy thinking and with the diseases it’s not even a probable scenario, but my mind doesn’t care about that. There is a reason why it’s called anxiety disorder.
Advise like “It’s just in your head” or “You are overreacting” might be well meant but is not helpful at all. Because guess what: No shit Sherlock, I know it’s only in my mind and that I am overreacting – THAT is the problem. My mind is hysteric. It overreacts. It is not rational. It is constantly drawing up apocalyptic scenarios in which I get very sick, die, humiliate myself, make people hate me and so on. I do not choose to think that way – in fact I usually try very hard to pull myself out of those scenarios.
For me, fear is like a constant background noise in my mind. It’s always there, always waiting to break free and go on a rampage. As long as I am aware of it, I can keep it in check. But if I get too stressed – about work, life or the constant media bombardment of a disease spreading – it sneaks past my awareness and begins whispering its poisonous lies in my mind. That I am worth nothing. That nobody likes me. That no one will ever love me. That I will soon die. And before I know it, I wake up paralyzed by fear. Mostly that it’s not lies at all but the undeniable truth.
Liar, liar brain’s on fire
My mind is a liar. I know that. At least a part of me knows it or is at least aware of it. But that’s the conscious part and after years of various forms of therapy I concluded that the conscious part of your mind doesn’t matter all that much. It’s the thinking and logical part of you, commonly referred to as “the brain”. My brain is fine. It’s confused what’s going on really. After all, in the past year I seemingly did everything right: I quit the job that I loaded, I moved away from the place I loaded, I got over a bad breakup and started anew. With a new job in a place where most of my friends live just an hour away. I even joined a running group and made a Tinder profile. It should have all been fine. Spoiler: It wasn’t.
In my opinion there is nothing in this world that is harder than change. Change is always struggle and it’s mostly always met with resistance and challenge. Maybe that’s because we need struggle in order to grow. Maybe it’s also because you can’t truly change if you do not only change your thoughts but your feelings as well. If you are still dreaming of the one that broke your heart, you are not really open for someone new. Even if that new someone might just be the love of your life. If you are still working a job just to have a job, it will still feel just as empty as the last one. If part of you still waits for the other shoe to drop, nothing has really changed. Everything still feels empty, it still hurts and it’s still lonely. You are still the coward you always were.
How do you change the hate?
As you can see, I am very good with analyzing HOW I became anxious and depressed, and WHY I still have panic attacks. My problem is the changing part. Because I grew up with the ingrained believe that I am not good enough. That I needed to control myself. That there is something wrong with me. That I am strange and that because of all of that, nobody will ever love me. As a result, I started to hate myself. Let me tell you, it even hurts to write it. Hating yourself is the worst thing you can do – because you are the only person you will never be able to avoid.
I don’t know what I will do. My therapist also doesn’t really know how to help me, and my doctor keeps telling me to just take medicine. For me the only real solution is changing. Everything. Anything. Something. Because I keep falling apart for the same reasons and it’s time to stop patching up the cracks instead of starting to build a whole new life. But – how do you start a new life?